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Venezuelan tools of protest? Pots, pans, and smartphone apps.

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Ariana Cubillos/AP

(Read caption) Opposition supporters bang pots against President-elect Nicolas Maduro as they protest the results of the presidential election in Caracas, Venezuela, April 18. Opposition protesters have been protesting the election results every night with pot banging since the Sunday election.

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Nearly a month after Nicolás Maduro’s controversial inauguration as Venezuelan president, the noise of banging pots and pans still brings the deserted streets to life here. 

A nightly occurrence for the first two weeks after April’s hotly contested presidential election results, the sounds of anti-Maduro sentiment are now the street-level soundtrack whenever a government-mandated broadcast, or “cadena” (chain), takes over the airwaves. Opposition supporters pick up their pots, pans, spoons, and in some cases smart phones, and hang out windows and on balconies to create a cacophonous "cacerolazo," as the noisy protest is called here.

“They didn’t get the result they wanted, so they’re making a lot of noise,” says Vladimir Hernandez, a chavista and supporter of Mr. Maduro from eastern Caracas. “We’ve heard it before, and we’ll hear it again,” Mr. Hernandez says of the clanging pots and pans.

The cacerolazo has taken such a hold in Venezuela that a number of smart phone apps have been launched to replicate the sound of banging pots and pans. The free Cacerolazo Android app in particular, developed in Argentina, saw over 50,000 downloads in April as news spread worldwide of the protests in Caracas.

“It could be that we’re lazy,” says Marianna Hernandez, whose Samsung Galaxy phone does the work for her in her Caracas neighborhood of Colinas de Santa Monica. “But after twenty minutes your arms get tired,” she says.

“We simply plug my phone into the stereo and open the window,” Ms. Hernandez says. “It’s a much greater sound than you can make physically."

She says her friends poke fun at her, but she doesn't mind. "It’s about showing solidarity.”

The regular toc-toc-toc sound of anti-Maduro attitude is countered by fireworks, which explode above the Venezuelan capital’s socialist strongholds. The fireworks are distributed by the city's police force, which encourages demonstrations of support for the country’s “first chavista president,” as Maduro describes himself.

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Everything but the kitchen sink

The cacerolazo is not endemic to Venezuela: Many point to 1970s Chile as the originator. Citizens of Santiago showed their discontent with the economic policies of Salvador Allende’s government through the cacerolazos. The nature of the protest allowed them to express their discontent from the safety of their homes.

The demonstration has since been adopted across Latin America, becoming a common soundtrack throughout the continent, particularly in Buenos Aires, where the app used by many Venezuelans this month was first designed by the COLPIX Argentina studio. Outside of the region it has gained traction as well, most notably last year in Quebec, when students took to the streets to protest a government bill to make mass protest illegal. 

‘I’ll keep going’

Both Maduro and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles acted to discourage street-level protests, fearing violence. Maduro closed the streets each night in the weeks following his contested victory, while Mr. Capriles called off plans for a large opposition march.

Capriles turned instead to calling for nightly cacerolazos, instructing his supporters to show their discontent through this nonviolent – though not particularly peaceful – protest.

“It won’t change anything,” says Ms. Hernandez, who voted for Capriles in the country’s past two elections. “Street protests need to be organized, that way you can give a number to those who are against this government.

“The cacerolazo may sound like a lot of people, but it lacks visual impact.”

Maduro won the election by 1.8 percent of the vote, and his victory has been acknowledged by regional leaders including the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia. However, Capriles has cited close to 3,200 counts of electoral fraud, including illegal election-day campaigning and police intimidation in opposition-strong polling stations. 

He has petitioned the government for a full recount, and a partial recount is currently underway.

 “People will eventually get bored of [the cacerolazo], but I’ll keep going as long as everyone else does," Ms. Hernandez says.


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